At the gala ceremony for the 2009 Prix Galien USA award on October 1, a paradigm shift in drug development took center stage.
“The most successful new [cancer] therapies will be based on a precise molecular understanding of disease basis—that’s exactly what we did with Gleevec,” said keynote speaker Brian Druker, director of the Oregon Health and Science University Knight Cancer Institute, who played a major role in the discovery of the “magic cancer bullet” that is one of the most successful drug’s of the decade. Accordingly, Novartis’ Gleevec (imatinib mesylate), a kinase inhibitor that stops the protein that causes chronic myeloid leukemia, received the award for Best Pharmaceutical Product.
Druker’s speech considered the benefits of collaboration between the drug industry and academics in solving scientific conundrums. “Basic science can actually advance an undruggable target to a druggable target. It is my view that investment in science in large consortiums can move the ball forward much faster than each of us can do alone,” he said.
Druker even went so far as to propose a new system of conducting clinical trials: “We need a complete new branch of science—a branch that I’ll call human investigation—to investigate patients with the same level of scientific detail that we put into our basic science.”
Druker’s visionary proposals, delivered in the appropriately inspired setting of the American Museum of Natural History’s “Whale Room,” met with polite applause from the black-tie crowd celebrating the industry’s most innovative branded products. The translational-medicine model that brought Gleevec from lab bench to patient bedside in near-record time is the glittering exception that proves the glum rule of high-risk pharma R&D. Many of the drugs nominated this year are the product of decades-long research and billion-dollar investment, some working off of discoveries made nearly 50 years ago.
Two drugs approved last year by FDA for the treatment of the rare disease idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) shared the Best Biotechnology Product honor: Amgen’s, Nplate (romiplostin), and Promacta (eltrombopag), a collaboration between GlaxoSmithKline and Ligand Pharmaceuticals. Both products were developed under the orphan-drug designation.
In recognition of the increasing role that diagnostics play in clinical practice, the Prix Galien USA gave its first Best Medical Technology award. The winner was Veridex’s CellSearch System, the first device able to identify and count circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in blood samples to help predict survival in patients with metastatic breast, colorectal or prostate cancer.
The committee presented its Pro Bono Humanum Awards to two pioneers in the burgeoning global-health movement, Dr. Barry Bloom, an immunologist and professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, was recognized for his work to eradicate disease by understanding immune response to infectious diseases including leprosy, TB and malaria. Jeffrey Sachs, an economist and director of the Earth Institute a Columbia University, was awarded for his work on Millennium Villages, the U.N.’s public/private partnership project that helps rural African communities lift themselves out of poverty by providing financial and health care support.
The Prix Galien Award was established in 1970 by French pharmacist Roland Mehl and inaugurated in the United States in 2007. Pharmaceutical Executive is the media sponsor of the event.
Visit Prix Galien’s website for more information.